Three memoirs and autobiographies – history unaltered by retelling
Constance Douthwaite’s Life in China 1887-1896
by Sheila McClure
Letters from Chefoo by Sheila McClure, tells the story of Sheila’s great grandmother, Constance Douthwaite (née Groves) who, aged 20, left Bristol for Chefoo in north China as one of ‘The Hundred’ missionaries recruited by James Hudson Taylor in 1886.
Constance’s letters form the main part of the book with Sheila’s well-researched explanatory passages providing context.
In her early letters, Constance describes in detail the exciting, intriguing and alien place that China was over 130 years ago.
Two years into her stay, she painfully reveals the obstacle of an engagement she had agreed to before leaving Bristol and her decision that she must travel home to break it off.
Returning to Chefoo she marries the man with whom she had fallen in love – Dr Arthur Douthwaite.
Arthur was the senior doctor and surgeon for the China Inland Mission, as well as head of Chefoo Mission with overall responsibility for the CIM missionaries and the running of the hospital and boys’ and girls’ boarding schools of Chefoo settlement. As a medical missionary’s wife, Constance had many responsibilities alongside becoming a mother and managing her household.
Photographs within the book show her as a serene young woman and in her letters she strives to paint a positive picture (it took two months or more for a letter to reach home, so there was no point in sending worrying details).
But still through her words we get a sense of the physical privations of life in Chefoo, the poor nutrition, the isolation, especially during bitter winter weather, the lack of integration between the Chinese and foreigners, the dangers of childbirth and of epidemics, in particular to babies and children, and always the constant longing for news from home.
Added to this, from 1894 to 1895 were the dangers and challenges of the First Sino-Japanese War.
While Letters from Chefoo describes life in China, it also touches often on the lives of Constance’s Brethren family in Bristol, showing how tough life was all over the world in the 19th century.
Constance lived in a time before radio communications (the first ship to shore radio system developed by Guglielmo Marconi (note below) was used on the Titanic in 1911), before aviation (the first scheduled passenger airline flight on the St. Petersburg to Tampa Airboat Line was in 1914), and before antibiotics (the first antibiotic was discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928).
Note: Marconi conducted his ship-to-shore radio transmission trials from Luttrell’s Tower, Calshot beach, as depicted in New Forest artist, Gervase Gregory’s book A Lifetime in Postcards and Maldwin Drummond’s book The Strange History of Seagulls.
the story of Marion Young, missionary in Japanese-occupied China
by Neil T. Sinclair
This Chinese missionary story takes place over the period of the Second Sino-Japanese War.
Letters from Manchuria was compiled by Neil T. Sinclair and his wife Helen, whose mother, Marion Young, was a missionary in China with the Irish Presbyterian mission from 1935-1941.
Marion was posted to the isolated, inner Mongolian town of Faku, over 300 miles north of Chefoo, and here the Japanese were already in full occupation when Marion arrived.
Just like Constance, Marion wrote weekly letters home to her family.
Sometimes she would enclose a photograph or a hand-drawn map, and always she showed an acute eye for detail along with a good dose of Irish wit, especially when describing adventures she had with fellow missionary Mamie Johnston (note below).
Marion describes the ‘spits and smells’ of daily life, children in happy play, her work and language study, and the shadier sides of social reality at that time – ‘Christmas morning … wakened to feet running by my window’ – the freezing cold morning when the cook’s daughter-in-law threw herself down the well.
Japanese rule became more and more oppressive during Marion’s time in Manchuria; all letters outward and all those arriving from home were read and censored, even to the point of one censor putting a note on Marion’s brother’s letter to say his handwriting was very untidy. Marion could only make veiled reference to the regular imprisonment and torture of many of the leading Chinese Christians and often she used code words; relating back to the Belfast troubles she had experienced as a child, she called Japanese spies ‘the Black and Tans’. Sometimes, possibly when the letter would be travelling home with a fellow missionary, she was clearer in her description – ‘They treat folk a bit more kindly before freeing them, to give the marks of beating or torture a chance to clear up … isn’t it a bright thought?’
Foreigners were safe, but constantly watched and asked for papers, such was the suspicion about spies within the church community. Tension rose from 1939 onwards until it seemed much of the mission work – especially the education work – would have to be given up. Marion went on leave in January 1941, just as most missionaries were either instructed or encouraged to depart. Because of the Second World War, it took Marion ten months to get home, via the United States. She left her fiancé, Rymer Cayton, behind in China, not knowing for a year and a half whether he had survived internment.
Note: Mamie Johnston wrote the small volume, I Remember It Well, about her time in China. She went to China in 1923 and stayed on until 1951. In the foreword Rev Dr Austin Fulton writes, ‘We used to say to each other: “Where Mamie is, there things happen.” The pages of this memoir strikingly illustrate this. I hope it will be widely read.’
by Winifred Tovey with letters and sections by Frank Tovey
The Second Sino-Japanese War officially began in July 1937 with full-scale invasion of China, and ended in September 1945 after Japan surrendered to China and the Allied forces.
During that time, in the mountains of north Yunnan the American Red Cross built a small hospital at Chaotung (now called ‘Zhaotong’), a walled city 6,300 feet above sea level.
At the end of American presence in that part of Yunnan, the hospital was handed over to the Methodist Missionary Society (MMS) – a logical move as the MMS had sent missionaries to Chaotung since 1886 when Samuel Pollard arrived there from Devon. Pollard was a missionary for the Bible Christians, a splinter group from the Methodist Church. His story is remarkable and can be found in the book Beyond the Clouds by Elliott Kendall.
Strangers in Chaotung takes up the story from 1947 when Frank Tovey, a young houseman in Bedford County Hospital, offered his services to the Methodist Missionary Society (MMS).
When Frank qualified as a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCS) the MMS immediately posted him to China with instruction to set sail in two weeks.
But he had just become engaged to Winifred Hill and knowing that the MMS rule was marriage only after a minimum of two years of service in China, they rushed to get a special license and were married six days before departing from Glasgow on the TSS Empire Brent.
Five and a half weeks later they arrived in Hong Kong, to travel onwards by train to Hankow. Having come from war-torn Britain they seemed un-phased by the disturbances and constant troop movements in China, writing home, ‘the Communist fighting in Central China has not got near Hankow so we anticipate an uneventful journey.’
After a period of language study and work in the Methodist Hankow General and Union hospitals, Frank and Winnie travelled to Kunming by Chinese Airways and onward to Chaotung in an old station wagon driven by Ken Parsons (note below), a fellow missionary who with his twin brother had been born in Chaotung in 1916.
As with all walled cities, the gates into Chaotung were closed at sundown against bandits and foreigners. The hospital compound was outside the city and gated too.
When Frank and Winnie arrived on foot after dark because the station wagon had broken down, they had to bang on the gate to rouse the occupants from their beds, and then in the light of a single hurricane lamp scuttle past the vicious guard dogs that were let loose in the compound after dark.
Over the following seven months, Frank and Winnie worked with the small hospital staff to treat all who came, Winnie doing the accounts and learning how to assist with x-rays and give anaesthetics.
Provisions were scarce and because of galloping inflation the silver dollars, sent hidden in boxes under a lorry, to pay hospital staff had to be immediately converted into material goods to hold any value at all.
Ever present were the bandits and by April 1949 when a baby daughter was born to Winnie and Frank, the days and nights were punctuated by rifle fire from brigands and rebels besieging the city wall.
News came that Nanking had fallen to the Communists. The missionaries in the locality decided (against advice from MMS) to evacuate all women and children home.
They commissioned an old Dakota owned by the Lutheran Mission to carry them over the mountains to Kunming. There was no seating on the plane, no air pressure adjustment and no heating, and the passengers had to sit on the floor of the hold, while the plane lumbered its way between the high mountain peaks.
Frank and Ken stayed on, leaving Chaotung at the end of August, just four days before the Yunnan Revolution was reported.
To follow were three decades of Communist China, a huge country closed to the rest of the world. In 1981, after the death of Mao and fall of the ‘Gang of Four’, Frank was invited to China with Winnie for a lecture tour.
They returned to the Hankow Methodist Hospital, but did not reach Chaotung because of landslides. However they found that the Chaotung District People’s Hospital had been built on the site of the original Chaotung Mission Hospital and was catering for 280,000 outpatients and 13,000 inpatients a year.
Note: Ken Parsons’ twin brother, Keith, has written a book, Our Providential Way, about the lives of their parents, Annie and Harry Parsons, who were missionaries from 1903 to 1926 at Stone Gateway (Shih Men Kan), a settlement built by the early Bible Christian missionaries one day’s mule ride from Chaotung. This book will soon be published by Little Knoll Press.
Did you know Narnia is a real place in central Italy?
Very few people know that the real place, Narni, in Umbria, Italy, provided inspiration for C S Lewis’s most famous book.
How did this happen?
View the video by Dave Knowles to learn about the history of Narni and why C S Lewis chose this special hilltop town for The Chronicles of Narnia. See the tallest man-made waterfall in the world and learn why they were created by the Romans. Also find out about The Rocca, the castle overlooking Narni that was so important to the Roman Catholic church. Perhaps C S Lewis found a link to the character of Lucy from the story of St Lucia who was born in Narni and at the age of five saw the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus. St Lucia’s body lies today in a glass coffin in the Cathedral St. Giovanale.
(The link below will take you to purchase a beautifully illustrated hardback copy of The Chronicles of Narnia.)
My daughter, Beth, took this photo earlier this year on a visit to Bath.
This shop used to be TOVEY OPTHALMIC OPTICIAN, the business started in 1888 by my great grandfather, Frank Ivor Tovey. Great grandfather and his family lived above the shop and I was told that my grandmother was born in those rooms.
The shop front seen in these photos was newly installed by my great grandfather in 1906, designed by Alfred J. Taylor.
The current shopkeepers told Beth that Mary Shelley had lived there.
This was a surprise to me, but a little bit of research reveals that it is true. The rooms above the shop were rented by Percy Shelley and occupied by Mary’s step sister, Claire Clairmont, Mary and Shelley’s son, William, and his nurse, and Mary used this address, 12 New Bond Street, for her correspondence during that period from autumn 1816 to January 1817, although she also had other rooms in a boarding house near the Pump Room and Roman baths.
It was a dark time for Mary; Shelley was hardly ever there, and Mary and Claire were keeping out of the public eye because Claire was pregnant with Lord Byron’s child.
In addition, Mary and Percy Shelley’s first baby, Clara, had recently died in infancy while they were abroad and Byron’s relationship with Claire had gone sour. Shelley had run out of funds to support himself, Mary and Claire on their travels and they had returned to England on a low with winter coming. Mary felt deeply the rift with her father, but she determined to write the novel that she had started after a nightmare vision during their stay with Byron.
As if things couldn’t get worse, tragedy came with the suicides of Mary’s half sister, Fanny, and of Shelley’s wife, Harriet. It is hard to imagine how wretched life must have seemed on a dark, wet, winter day.
Out of all this came Mary’s ground breaking novel, Frankenstein.
(There are links to buy the books, Mary Shelley by Miranda Seymour, and Frankenstein, below.)
My mother, Winifred Tovey, wrote about her first visit to Tovey Opticians in her book, Strangers in Chaotung …
‘Frank’s grandfather, Frank Ivor Tovey, was descended from a family of watch and clock makers. He had qualified as an optician and set up the business in New Bond Street, Bath. It was here that Frank’s father, Ernest Tovey worked. Ernest trained as an optician when courting Nellie and had to change his name from Short to Tovey by deed poll when he married her, the eldest of the three Tovey daughters.
Frank’s auntie, Irene Tovey, also worked at the shop in Bath. She was the middle sister to Nellie and May and the first woman to qualify as an optician in England, for which she was awarded the Freedom of London.
During the weekend I spent a fascinating afternoon in the shop. I met all the staff members and then was taken upstairs into the workshop where spectacles were prepared for individual customers. At that time, 1947, spectacle lenses were made of glass and arrived in squares. First of all the lens had to be centred. If they were cylindrical the axis was marked with a blue pencil, then the lenses were cut, using a template, and bevelled to fit the spectacle frame. If bifocal correction was required, this was added as a segment, which was stuck onto the lower part of the lens. It needed great skill and care to obtain a good result. I found it fascinating.
Frank, of course, knew all about my background and had visited our house frequently, but I was slightly worried about what his family expected of me because of my working class background. Quietly, I was overwhelmed. Despite the fact that in view of our family circumstances I had successfully worked my way through to obtain a responsible post with a good salary, I did wonder whether Frank’s father would be happy to accept me as a suitable partner for his son.’
A new video about Jack Hargreaves is on its way.
This week Dave Knowles and Steve Wagstaff met in Jack’s barn in Dorset to talk about working with Jack on his Southern Television series Out of Town and the further series Old Country.
Standing in the barn where Jack had recorded the links for the last series of Out of Town programmes* brought back lots of memories to their recorded conversation. (*These were made using film originally shot but unused in Southern Television’s broadcast Out of Town.)
I met Jack quite a few times when he was working with Dave and Steve, and I edited and published the book Jack’s Country, so I had read about his early life, his time during WW2 and his part in early broadcast radio and television, but I didn’t know many of the things that they recalled. Jack had an easy way about him and a keen interest in life so he appeared much younger than he was. It was a surprise when I edited the book to find he was born in 1911. Perhaps a beard disguises the age of a man – I found out Jack’s thought on this from Dave and Steve’s discussion!
Jack Hargreaves was a complex and knowledgeable man; most importantly he was a good communicator who could bring magic to tales about everyday country stories.
An inspiring visit
Art Gallery & Museum
It is a rare treat to visit the work that has inspired a painter, and in the company of that painter.
Alan Langford, equestrian artist and highly skilled graphic artist, invited a group of friends and fellow artists to visit the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery with him to see the large oil, ‘The Gypsy Horse Drovers’ by Lucy Kemp-Welch, painted in 1894 when Lucy was a student under Herbert Von Herkomer RA.
In his book WELGORA Alan wrote about the day when Lucy was inspired to do this painting:
‘The idea for this painting occurred to her when she saw the approach of a number of heavy-hoofed cobs, driven by tough-looking Romany riders along a muddy country lane, under a grey wintry sky. Rushing from her lodgings with palette and brushes in hand, and the lid of her paint box to serve as a paint board, she executed a swift and skillful composition as this irregular, rampant procession proceeded before her.’
The curator of the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery showed us the actual sketch on the paint box lid.
This stunning little oil sketch is a very special art work in itself, portraying movement and detail in a few quick strokes of the brush, with the texture of the rough wood adding a further dimension.
The paint box lid with Lucy’s quick painted sketch of the Gypsy Horse Drovers mentioned is displayed on the reverse of the picture of a horse’s head shown in this photo, also by Lucy Kemp-Welch.
I wasn’t quick enough to get a photo of the box lid, but … what better excuse to go to the art gallery and see it for yourself?
Lucy went on to paint ‘The Gypsy Horse Drovers’ on an 8 foot long canvas – an enormous project for a diminutive young woman (she was in her early twenties) and in that Victorian time.
Alan explains in his book WELGORA how with trepidation Lucy presented the unfinished painting to be viewed by Herkomer, a man not averse to putting a huge black cross of paint across a student’s work if it was not to his approval!
But as Alan writes: ‘Herkomer was so impressed by ‘The Gypsy Horse Drovers’ that he recommended that Lucy submit it for the next Royal Academy Exhibition.
This she did, and it was hung in a good position just above the line and was quickly purchased by Sir Frederic Harris for £60.00.
At that time £60.00 represented a significant sum; Lucy would have been overjoyed.’
This was just the beginning of Lucy’s career, which included illustrating the children’s book, Black Beauty.
(There are links below to buy a beautiful edition of the book Black Beauty illustrated by Lucy Kemp-Welch and prints of the illustrations.)
Her large oil ‘Gypsy Horses’, also in the Russell-Cotes Gallery, is shown in this photo being admired by Barry Miles, author and watercolour artist, and Peter Frost, painter, professional printer and retired New Forest Verderer.
There is something different to see at every turn in the Russell-Cotes Gallery – paintings, marble busts, Japanese incense burners, memorabilia, painted ceilings, stained glass, mosaic work and bronzes, all collected by the Russell-Cotes over the years from 1880 to 1901. Once after a trip to Japan, they travelled back with over 100 packing cases full of art and collectables!
The museum and gallery building, East Cliff Hall, was gloriously designed to the directions of Merton Russell-Cotes, as a gift to his wife. Its late Victorian style mixes Moorish, Japanese and French influences, making for exotic and indulgent surroundings.
It’s easy to find a piece to sit in front of and savour, and it’s also easy to miss a dozen others, but this makes it worth visiting again and again.
Apart from the paintings, which have been added to since 1902, the artwork that particularly took my eye on this visit was a glazed Parian ware figure of a boy, dressed in lederhosen and Tyrolean hat.
I used to make ceramic models of people and the largest I made was quite a challenge at about 12 inches tall.
This nearly life size figure was used for advertising in a dairy shop in Austria.
How did the artist make such a perfectly detailed piece of such size and how was it transported from pottery to shop, and then from country to country to arrive at the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery?
I was also intrigued by the story of Laura Knight, who in the early 1930s used to drive out to gypsy encampments and set up her ‘studio’ in the back of her Rolls-Royce.
Here you can see only a part of her large canvas ‘The Little Beggar’.
Laura Knight’s most notable work is ‘The Nuremberg Trial‘. This thought-provoking painting is at The Imperial War Museum, London.
This only touches on the artwork at the gallery and museum.
Next time you’re in Bournemouth, why not get away from the beach and walk up East Cliff to the art gallery and museum. It will be well worth it!
In the town of Narni, Italy, lives the author, Maria Giulia Cotini, who this summer was directing I Ragazzi Pon Pon (The Cheerleaders) in their performance of her play Giullarino Mingherlino (The Skinny Jester).
This was part of the children’s holiday activities, where they got together to learn more about their town’s history and link it with places around the world.
Maria Giulia is also the author of the book, Shotaro – the child who wanted to become a Samurai.
Just like Little Knoll Press author, Anthony Ridgway, Maria Giulia has been disabled from birth, but for both of them this has been no bar to imagination and achievement.
Shotaro is written in Italian and is available as a hardback book (ISBN: 9788804674610) and e-book.
Here is a translation of the blurb:
‘Shotaro is intelligent and stubborn, and he refuses to accept that his greatest dream (to become a Samurai like his father) is unattainable. Shotaro is disabled from birth and his father decided he would become a monk.
The rōnin, Kenya, arrives at the monastery and declares he is willing to train even him.
But when the terrible Daimyō destroy Shotaro’s home village and his father disappears, Shotaro’s life is turned upside down and everything seems lost.
In ancient Japan, a country marred by war and corruption, Shotaro is able to demonstrate, with courage and determination, that you don’t need a perfect body to make a man into a warrior.’
And here is some more about Maria Giulia:
Maria Giulia Cotini was born in 1980; disabled from birth, she does not walk and has problems with her hands, sight and hearing.
Maria Giulia has been in love with the martial arts since a child, and at the age of ten she was the first child with a disability to practice karate in the gym with the able-bodied.
Working on her knees, she adapted the techniques up to competition standards, which was previously considered impossible.
Always passionate about myths and legends, Maria Giulia graduated with honours in History of Religions.
Sweetwings saves the Fleet
This little gunboat spotted on a recent visit to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard reminded me of a story in Maldwin Drummond’s children’s book
The Strange History of Seagulls
Now Maldwin knew his boats (he was a sailor all his life and was involved in the raising of the Mary Rose, as well as a supporter of the Museum of the Royal Navy), and I thought the boat in my photo looked like the MTB (Motor Torpedo Boat) in his illustration where ‘Sweetwings’, the seagull, gives the electrician early warning of a floating minefield.
However, on comparing my photo with Maldwin’s boat, the tell-tale funnel on the boat in Portsmouth led me to believe it is not an MTB, but an SGB (Steam Gun Boat) also used in WW2.
On page 25 of The Strange History of Seagulls we find out how Sweetwings saved the fleet.
It was lucky that he was so observant!
The Strange History of Seagulls is a fun way to learn about the history of the Solent and Waterside area. It is illustrated throughout with Maldwin Drummond’s unique watercolours.
(The links below are to two other books by Maldwin Drummond. The Riddle was released around the same time as The Strange History of Seagulls and After You, Mr Lear: In the wake of Edward Lear in Italy is packed with Maldwin’s quiet humour. )
A wonderful and well-deserved surprise for
author, Anthony Ridgway,
Barbara Large Memorial Prize
at the Hampshire Writers’ Society evening, June 2019.
To see Anthony receive news of the award, watch the video by clicking on the photo below –
(HINT: The sound is much better on iphone – don’t know why, but if you want to hear what David Suchet says, then listen on your i device.)
Anthony Ridgway’s books
WIZZY the Animal Whisperer
WIZZY and the Seaside Adventure
both beautifully illustrated by artist Suzan Houching
delight readers, young and old(er)!
To find out more click on the pictures:
Wickham Horse Fair
(WELGORA is the Romani word for Horse Fair)
By ancient charter of King Henry III, 1269
2019 and still an unmissable event!
In his book
artist Alan Langford writes:
‘I have visited Wickham Horse Fair, in Hampshire, more times than I can remember.
There has been an annual Charter Fair at Wickham since the thirteenth century, always in late spring, and always, at least in my recollection, a rewarding experience.
The square becomes a busy profusion of merry-go-rounds, bumper cars and other fairground paraphernalia. A section of the Fareham to Winchester road is closed to traffic and used as a ‘flashing lane’ by the Romani horse traders.
If you are fascinated by skilled bareback riding then there is no other event, at least in Britain, to compare with it. They are followed by horse-drawn sulkies, their drivers often leading more horses behind them.
The confidence with which the lads and raklis rush down the gradual slope of the flashing lane, mounted on their coloured Vanners with no saddles or hard hats and unforgiving tarmac underfoot, though dangerously reckless, is also skilfully impressive.
They are followed by horse-drawn sulkies, their drivers often leading more horses behind them.’
Among the characters I notice when studying the milieu of visitors, those that are of Romani extraction differ in both posture and expression from the curious clusters of the local gorgias.
Many of the Romani are possessed of weathered strong-featured countenances, suggesting a long ancestry of tough individualism.’
The 2019 Welgora at Wickham was no exception, as full of excitement and life as ever.